Big Stores = Big Bellies

Due to their convenience and often cheaper prices, big-box stores, warehouse clubs, and standard supermarket chains have become popular alternatives to specialty chains like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, and small, local markets. Many of the grocery goliaths even offer natural, fresh, and organic options for the health-conscious shopper.

But there could be downsides to getting your groceries at stores like Costco, Wal-Mart and Target. Your grocery store can influence how much you buy, how much you eat and whether you choose the baked pita chips or the Doritos.

Here are some healthy-eating saboteurs you might not have bargained for.

Doubling Up at Wholesale Clubs

Membership stores are the grocery equivalent of a buffet: We buy more to justify our membership fee and to feel like we’re getting a good deal; then we eat more so as to not waste the surplus.

While there may be nothing wrong with stocking up on milk and poultry, a trip to Sam’s Club or Costco usually invites more than healthy staples into our carts. When shopping to get our money’s worth, we’re more likely to buy foods we don’t need or wouldn’t ordinarily purchase, Cornell University professor Brian Wansink writes in his book Mindless Eating. Frozen pot stickers, a jumbo bag of Chex Mix, a 100-pack of granola bars — a few last-minute grabs will help solidify the “savings.” (Or in my case, I indulge because, what the heck, it’s a good price.)

After the shopping spree to recoup a membership fee, there’s the burden of having to eat all that food. People eat stockpiled foods at almost twice the normal rate, Wansink’s studies have found. For one, there’s a race to eat it before it spoils. Next, we’re dealing with jumbo-size quantities, which, just like jumbo-size restaurant servings, tend to skew our portion sense.

We also have an odd compulsion to preserve the “norm,” Wansink discovered. If we’re used to seeing one box of cereal in the cupboard, and suddenly we have three, we’ll eat more in order to whittle our stock back to the baseline. The pattern of stockpiling and gorging is most common among new club members, he notes.

The 10 for $10 Scheme

Thanks to clever pricing strategies, you don’t have to shop at warehouse stores to come home with piles of food. A group of studies published in the Journal of Marketing Research found that a suggestion to buy in multiples — whether a “10 for $10” price label or a “limit 10 per customer” tag — leads the average consumer to buy more. In four studies across 89 stores, sales rose by 30 percent when multi-unit pricing was used.

For more, please visit the full post over at U.S. News Eat + Run blog


I’m a health writer and graduate student. I'm interested in the wily side of health – self sabotage, persuasion, and why health campaigns so often manage to inadvertently piss people off.

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